Thursday, Nov 13, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
The meeting, described by Presidential aides as "icebreaking'', started as scheduled at 11.30 a.m. in Ms. Kumaratunga's official residence and lasted two-and-a-half hours.
"After an exchange of views on events leading to the present situation, the President and the Prime Minister decided to move forward and continue the dialogue with all parties concerned,'' the statement said, adding that a further meeting between them had been planned "in the course of next week'', a joint statement signed by the Secretaries of the two leaders said. Significantly, neither the President nor the Prime Minister was accompanied by political leaders at today's meeting.
W.J.S. Karunaratne, Secretary to the President, Bradman Weerakoon, Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Mano Tittawella, Senior Adviser to the President and Senior Director-General of the President's Office, were present during the meeting.
The details of the meeting were not made public. According to sources, the meeting "went over the past events'' including the impact of the change in Defence portfolio on the peace process. The political parties headed by the two leaders Ms. Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Mr. Wickremesinghe's United National Front (UNF) have not shown signs of a climbdown from their postures since the November 4 standoff.
The SLFP has said it was within the powers of the President to take over the Ministries of Defence, Interior and Mass Communication. But the UNF said the move had caused "fundamental changes'' to the peace process and the Wickremesinghe administration would not be able to carry it forward unless control over the three Ministries was restored.
The SLFP today defended Ms. Kumaratunga's actions as "fully constitutional and legal''. The party spokesman, Sarath Amunugama, told journalists that Ms. Kumaratunga would not be able to assign the Defence portfolio to anyone else, "even if she wanted to'' as the Supreme Court had determined that it was "inalienable'' from the President.
As the political standoff continues, another general election is seen by some as a possible outcome.
As only the President is empowered to dissolve Parliament and call elections, one of the factors that would determine the future course of events is the progress in the efforts by the SLFP and the left-radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to strike an electoral pact.
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